New opportunities and diversity, or same old same old?
Travelling back and forth to the island, particularly having spent more than a year overseas, allows one to observe the changes rapidly becoming Bermuda’s new face or reality.
From a human population dynamic, Bermuda is heading rapidly towards the Cayman Islands model. The tipping point has been already crossed and it is irreversible. For the past four years, there have been more deaths than births, and when you add the numbers of people, youth and working adults, that have left and are still leaving, those vacancies are being filled — and not by Bermudians.
David Burt, the Premier, in a recent op-ed tried to hearken back by appealing to an old sentiment of Bermudians losing jobs to foreign workers. However, the reality for the marketplace is that Bermudians are vacating, and as the market begins to slowly correct, of necessity those vacancies are being filled by foreign labour. The Premier’s statement was more a foreboding election pitch than a real take on the economy and jobs for Bermudians.
The economy is a living organism and has a demand for services and skills to satisfy all sectors. From professionals to menial tasks, with everything in between, is needed; otherwise, the economy will falter.
This situation cannot be fixed by protest. This isn’t a matter that the union or labour can fix unless it wants to evolve from its past role and become now an agency that seeks greater efficiency from its labour pool of workers.
Our two-tiered educational system has managed to facilitate much of the higher end of the economy that deals with international business and the financial and administrative services, but for 30-plus years we have been floundering and not generating enough skill for the basic service sector, which generally is the largest portion of the workforce.
The situation speaks for itself: when we grow the economy, it will require more labour with each growth — labour that we are not producing. A couple of new hotels or major developments and we are indeed going to be like Cayman when eventually there will be more non-Bermudians in the overall workplace.
I suggest we embrace this new reality because the trajectory cannot be changed. Politicians will be appealing to a hollow sense among their voter base, rather than explain the way forward and how the country can benefit from having a fuller population.
It will come down to a leader with vision versus a leadership of derision. Leadership and governance at some point must break with old ties and protectionism, and become acceptable because it heads in the right direction and embraces a new world with new opportunities and diversity.
We live now in a global village: everywhere we go today, we see unparalleled diversity and multiculturalism. There will always be nativity, and that nativity must be preserved — but not at the expense of economic stagnation owing to xenophobia.
We have seen this populism, as it affected Britain before Brexit: the leaders didn’t know where they were going, nor did they care. What they did was capture the population’s fear and emotions over foreigners taking their livelihood. They promoted that fear and were able to win, but after winning had nowhere to go.
This could very easily be Bermuda at the crossroads of its destiny. The choices are starkly different and so, too, are the consequences. My senses are that the country is being moved towards a General Election by a leader who is desperately trying to hold on to power. He has a potential challenge from within his ranks that he will not risk facing; therefore, the only viable route is to flush them out by facing the One Bermuda Alliance instead, making any internal process moot.